numbers game19 May 2005
SIAW discusses the cruel numbers game of civilian deaths in the war in Iraq:
Our reference is, however, to the cynical game being played by those who seize on the numbers, from either of these sources or anywhere else, to prop up their preconceptions about wars in general, and the liberation of Iraq in particular, while pretending that they are merely adjusting their views in the light of new information - which is somewhat unconvincing coming from the sort of people whose views became set in stone some time around the mid-1970s, or who derive their views from uncritical reading of the works of such dogmatists. Unlike them, we don’t get any sense of satisfaction or reassurance out of exploiting the dead for cheap political point-scoring, and in any case we said all we want to say on the subject more than seven months ago
This, quite frankly, is infuriating. If, hypothetically, a group of people were opposed to war on the simple basis that, drawing on war’s extensive track record of killing lots of people, they thought the war would kill more people than were being put at risk by the fascist regime in question, and, hypothetically, they were subsequently poo-poo’ed and dismissed in the debate before the invasion, I’d think the subsequent numbers of civilian deaths would be pretty fucking important. Claiming that they are being raised now merely for “cheap political point-scoring” is pretty insulting.
Over and above that, we doubt whether any human being really makes judgements about war, peace and other big issues solely on the basis of cool, rational, objective cost-benefit analyses. The Second World War “cost” 55 million lives: would you care to try calculating the benefit of the Allies’ victory? Consider, then - as the Lancet report and its fans, revealingly, do not - the possibilities of civilian deaths in Iraq due to:
(a) the continuation of the Ba’ath regime for some unknown period, extended by the succession of Uday and/or Qusay to their father;
(b) the continuation of sanctions for some unknown period;
(c) the eventual overthrow of the Ba’ath by an internal uprising, followed by all-out civil war;
or, most likely,
(d) some even more hypothetical but also plausible combination of these three.
However many deaths the Iraq conflict may have caused - in other words, whichever estimate one may prefer, for a combination of rational and non-rational motives - the likelihood remains strong that any of these alternative scenarios would have led to even more deaths, although, again, assessments of that likelihood are bound to take account of non-rational factors as well as rational ones. Political decisions are not mathematical calculations, nor should they be.
The major fallacy of this entire argument lies in assuming that opposing the war also requires supporting the status quo. That if you’re opposed to the war, you must be in support of the continuation of the Ba’ath regime, the sanctions, etc. This of course is not true, and thus the argument is nonsense. That civil war might have erupted on its own and been even bloodier is of course a possibility, but it’s an uncertain one. It hardly justifies instigating a war, especially when there are (or should be) other options on the table. No, sanctions and round-the-clock bombing are not a good example – There’s a good case to be made that ending the sanctions ages ago would have provided considerable room for dis-arming and disabling the Hussein regime. In this case, I think the devil we don’t know (any other option) is preferrable to the one we do (war). Especially when you consider that the humanitarian justifications for the war were all nearly 20 years old. The United States’ track-record in invasion, empire, and state-building is pretty abysmal. Proponents of the invasion of Iraq like to bring up World War II at every occasion, but some us remember the 50 years between then and now, and that we haven’t exactly done such a bang-up job since.
He finishes up by quoting from this post:
What I cannot understand is the people bemoaning the continuing loss of life in Iraq, while at the same time suggesting the insurgency in Iraq has a legitimate right to oppose occupation (which now means blowing up civilians leaving Mosques and other atrocities). The two don’t square.
Anyone who was against the war because of the potential for loss of life, should be against the insurgency and what it represents on the same basis. That some are cheerleading them on by suggesting that US troops in Iraq would be destroyed between “the hammer of the anti-war movement and the anvil of resistance.” is frankly appalling. That very statement shows clearly that for these people, the “100,000″ are just martyrs for their “anti-imperialist” posturing.
This is a fairly low-down fallacy. I don’t know what sort of anti-war sources this guy is reading, but the majority of them, myself included, are not cheerleading the insurgency. It’s idiotic and puerile to insinuate that the people opposed to this war are cheerleading the opposition and posturing for anti-imperialism’s sake.